BILLINGS — Hunters who took advantage of this year opening weekend of antelope general season in south central Montana had warm, dry, calm conditions Saturday, but had to contend with rain and wind on Sunday.
More hunters stopped at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks check stations in south central Montana than during last year’s opening weekend. The harvest was slightly better than last year, but remained slower than the long-term average.
Hunters throughout the region reported seeing a few more antelope this year than in 2013, but the herds still are much smaller than the long term average, primarily because they continue to recover from diseases dating back to 2008.
At the Billings check station, hunter numbers were well ahead of last year for the opening weekend of antelope season while the number of harvested antelope was only slightly higher than in 2013.
FWP wildlife research specialist Jay Watson checked 156 hunters over the weekend at Billings, up from 113 during the same weekend in 2013. Hunters had 37 antelope, just two more than the same weekend last year. This year 24 percent of hunters who stopped at the check station had game compared to 35 percent on opening weekend in 2013.
Over the past 10 years, an average of 217 hunters have stopped at the Billings check station with 113 animals for a harvest ratio of 52 percent.
At the Big Timber check station, hunter numbers, the numbers of antelope harvested and percentage of hunters with game all were up from opening weekend in 2013.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh checked 322 hunters on Saturday and Sunday, up from 285 last year and well above the 10-year average of 262. He checked 155 antelope, up from 119 in 2013 and near the 10-year average of 157. This year 48 percent of hunters who stopped at Big Timber has harvested game, up from 43 percent during the same weekend last year but below the long-term average of 60 percent.
At FWP’s Broadview check station, hunter numbers were up from last year, but the number of animals harvested was exactly the same.
FWP wildlife biologist Ashley Beyer checked 196 hunters during the opening weekend of antelope season, compared to 170 during the same weekend in 2013. She checked 58 antelope during the two days, the same number as in 2013. As a result, the percentage of hunters with game fell to 30 percent this year while 35 percent of hunters who stopped at Broadview harvested game during opening weekend in 2013.
The Broadview numbers were down from the 10-year average. Over the past decade, an average of 226 hunters stopped at the check station with 105 animals for a harvest rate of 46 percent.
Hunters are reminded that they must stop at any check station they pass while hunting, whether or not they have harvested game. Check stations primarily are intended for biologists to gather statistical information about animals and hunters.